March 26, 2011

“Forever Conceal, and Never Reveal” The “secrets” of Freemasonry

Posted in Freemasonry tagged , , , , at 7:13 pm by GeneGoldman

While serving my Lodge, I had occasion to call on one of our Entered Apprentices to ask about the reasons for his long absence from the Work. Like all too many men who join our Fraternity, he completed his initiation and then disappeared. He had several reasons; the demands of his business had picked up, some personal issues requiring his attention at home, scheduling problems with his Coach, etc. All these were valid, but there appeared more to this than he was letting on. After some more conversation the truth was revealed . . . he was concerned about his obligation, particularly about the penalties for revealing our secrets.

Our Brother is a man who is very interested in Symbolism, Metaphysics, and (what we call our) Esoteric Work. The reason he sought out a Lodge to join was to write some papers on our Symbolism! He explained that he became alarmed when taking the obligation. We never informed him of just what “secrets” he had just vowed to protect! We simply advised him of grave symbolic penalties for failing to protect them. This caused him concern, as it was his goal to bring some light to non initiates in his writings. Being a man of much honor, he felt it better to go no further in our mysteries to be free to explain some of our symbolism to non masons.

Symbolic vs. Pragmatic
We entered a discussion of the penalties. The need for protection of our secrets was, and is, self-evident . . . if everyone knows our secrets, we have none. Having none, we are no longer unique, or even special. Nothing then remains to induce men of good moral character to want to associate with us. We discussed the historic nature of the penalties. Without addressing the accuracy of our alleged descent from the Knights Templar, there have been other times in history when Masons have faced death simply for being Masons, and living according to Masonic principles. Hitler, Khomeni, and others have issued death sentences for freethinkers. We teach our candidates to be freethinkers by the nature of our ceremonies.

He was surprised to learn that, under Masonic Law, the strongest penalty a Lodge can impose on a member is simply expulsion from the Fraternity! Although to most Masons, separation from the Craft would be far worse than the grisly acts described in our Ritual. The term “no less a penalty” applies here, in great measure. The thought of revealing our secrets to the unentitled should cause revulsion in the minds of our membership.

The Secrets Themselves
What are our secrets? Today, in this country, our existence is well known. Rose Parade Floats, published phone numbers and meeting times, even the jewelry openly and proudly worn by many Masons is evidence of this. That we use mystic ceremonies, embedded with symbolism to impart moral and ethical lessons to our novitiates is almost as well documented. Any interested person could enter a specialty bookstore, purchase a book or two, and learn the essence of our ceremonies. At the Local Masonic Center in my area there is a book store, well stocked with books on and about Masonry, and writings by many Masons. Many of these clearly explain our ceremonies and the reasons for the manner in which we exemplify them. Within the same building there is a library containing hundreds of volumes of writings by countless Masonic scholars. Most of these discuss either the history of our Craft, or the Ceremonies and symbolism we employ in our Work. Who we are, what we do, and how we do it are clearly not secret.

We proudly refer to our modes of recognition as the only secrets in our craft today. In my library at home, I have books describing our ritual in detail. These books have clear English text and include our cherished modes of recognition (complete with diagrams). These books were purchased at a wonderful little bookstore in the Business district in my neighborhood. Any interested person, with a few dollars, can do the same. Though Masons treat the modes of recognition as secret, they could not be considered unknown outside the Craft.

Secrets Defined
Well, what does that leave? It sounds like it’s all out in the open. Our existence, methods, ritual, even the ways we recognize each other are known to any expressing an interest. The real secret of our Craft is the spiritual and emotional growth we encountered because of the experiences we shared. The true Mysteries of Freemasonry are contained within the acts of being conducted around the Lodge Room, kneeling at the Altar, first learning the Grips and Words of the several Degrees, and participating in the Third Degree Ritual. Experiencing this as we do (first hand) cannot be described in words. As with many other life experiences “you had to be there” to really understand it. Words could only confuse the issue, never explain it.

What this means to us, my Brother
What does it mean that we are required to keep all this secret? The prohibition against unlawful disclosure of these secrets is meant to protect our ritual from corruption. It is not prohibited to instruct a candidate in the Work. Proper instruction of Candidates is strongly encouraged by Lodges.

Candidates Coaches (the unsung warriors of our Fraternity ) spend hour after hour personally instructing candidates in a myriad of areas. The Ritual Work, the history of Freemasonry, even proper Lodge etiquette are topics of much discussion. They spend many additional hours sharpening their proficiency in the Work to do this more effectively. They patiently answer the hundreds of questions posed by Candidates. Officers spend evenings away from their families to attend practices to improve their Work. In California, Coaches and Officers are required to attend District Schools of Instruction, and when proficient, they are certified by District Inspectors. Inspectors are supervised by Assistant Grand Lecturers. These men come under the oversight of the Grand Lecturer. The Grand Lodge of California, and most of its constituent Lodges, have active committees on Masonic Education. This elaborate system exists to insure that Candidates receive proper instruction.

Work is done only in a tyled Lodge, by qualified Officers. Coaching is done in private settings, by skilled and dedicated men. In this way the Ancient Landmarks are preserved. If Degrees were to be conducted by the unqualified, errata would begin to seep in and Keystones would begin to change or disappear. The essence of the Work would change and those elements that make it what it is would be lost. Thus, it is easy to see why the admonition against unlawful disclosure of our Work exists.

The “flip side”
“That is it? All I have to do is leave things to the Officers and Coaches and I have fulfilled my Obligation?” Not at all! Remember promising never to reveal these secrets unlawfully? That promise contains a hidden injunction to reveal lawfully. Relate the emotions you feel in Lodge to your family and friends, and to the way in which you conduct your life. Share what Masonry means to you by your conduct out of the Lodge. Remind yourself why you are a Mason. Let the world see, by your actions, evidence of the growth you experienced. Promote your Lodge’s activities and invite non-Masons to social activities. They just might get caught up in the spirit of Brotherhood and ask “How may I become a mason?”. Then discuss the membership and degree processes with him. If he asks for a petition, help him fill it out. Introduce him to other members of your Lodge.

Lawful disclosure of our secrets
Signing a petition also carries with it a moral obligation. It obliges you to support our new Brother through his Masonic travels. Be present at his Degrees and Proficiency examinations. Patiently answer his questions, or refer him to his Coach. Sit with him at Lodge dinners and in Lodge. Be to him the friend you told your Lodge he was to you.

Being a member of a Lodge enjoins you to attend whenever you can, even if you are not an officer. A full Lodge room for an initiation expresses the love of the fraternity to the Candidate and encourages him to become more active himself.

Doing these things will go a long way to fulfilling your “unstated” obligation to lawfully communicate the secrets of Freemasonry. Become a True and faithful Brother and encourage others by your example.

Meanwhile, back at the Coaching Room
Remember our Candidate? As this paper is being written, he has actively resumed meeting with his Coach. He is looking forward to completing his Degrees, and writing many excellent articles on our Craft. I know he will be happy as he forever reveals, and never conceals much of the non secret information about our Fraternity. He will be happier still as he lawfully communicated many of our secrets.

Author’s note:
I lost touch with this Brother after he relocated to another city, but before we lost contact, he assured me that his interest in, and enthusiasm for, Masonry continued unabated. GG

Gene Goldman served as Master of two Masonic Lodges in San Diego, under the Grand Lodge of California.  Amity (ne’e Blackmer) Lodge #442 in 1993 and Black Mountain Lodge #845 as Master in 1998, after signing its Charter as Senior Warden in 1997.

He has served as a Trustee for the Institute for Masonic Studies, and in a variety of Grand Lodge committees, including Masonic Education, Officers’ Management Workshops, Mentoring, and Lodge Ambassador.



  1. Jack Wise said,

    It should be emphasized that there is no where in any of our obligations any requirement to harm another person.

    The “real” secrets of Masonry is in the experiencing of the bonds of Fraternal Brotherhood which are not found in any other institution. Where else can a Brother loose his wallet and not have to verify its contents upon return. Where else and one give expression to an honest opinion and not later have his words thrown back in his face. Where else and a man receive advice and not have to be concerned that the giver of the advice has no ulterior motive. Only within the Ancient and Accepted Fraternity of Freemasons. –
    Jack Wise
    PM, Jacques DeMolay Lodge No. 1390 (Grand Lodge of Texas)
    Houston, TX

  2. GeneGoldman said,

    I could not agree more. Well put.

  3. George Kivowitz said,

    Gene, it should be noted that under the jusridiction of the Grand Lodge of NY, F&AM, the ritual was changed to “binding myself symbolically, under the ancient penalties…..”
    I would think that this would assure the candidates that the penalties delineated in the obligations are truely not physical as Jack Wise said, we have no intention of causing physical harm to anyone. We are teaching moral lessons.

    George Kivowitz
    PM Modin #1153 – 1987 (GL of NY, F&AM)
    South Shore-Long Beach #1126 – 2000, 2001, 2003 (GL of NY, F&AM)
    Long Island, NY

    • GeneGoldman said,

      George, That is not all that should be noted. In my opinion, it is a mistake to single out the penalties as being symbolic. Sure, they are, inarguably. They represent the discomfort any honorable individual would feel at voluntarily betraying a freely given promise.
      But virtually everything that is contained within the three degrees, indeed within Masonry, is similarly symbolic. From the positioning of the furniture and various items in a lodge room, to the adornments of the various officers’ stations, to the gestures and movements of everyone in the room, to the words spoken – everything done, heard, seen and experienced in a Masonic lodge is symbolic.
      In my experience, the fraternity as a whole does not even attempt to impress this upon a candidate prior to commencing his degrees. Yes, there are individuals (myself included) who take great pains to make this point. In my case, I try to make it in the earliest contact with a potential applicant. It is critical to the success of our process, and I have personally witnessed the harm it causes when it is overlooked.
      In my opinion, most applicants know it on some level, some don’t and all deserve to be advised or reminded.

      Thanks for bringing up the issue.

  4. S. Vanderloot said,

    What an amazing article honestly, I had to read it twice because of the beautiful meaning and the amazing words put together.

    • GeneGoldman said,

      I don’t know about amazing, but thank you for the flowers (as we used to say on the radio).

  5. Donna Garcia said,

    Hi, I just found your blog… I really enjoyed your posts and Just wanted to make a suggestion for a future article: Masons helping the youth groups. As a JDI Guardian I know how important encouragement, support both financial and involvement, and recognition are to the girls — and also the boys of DeMolay. These boys are eager to become Masons and by being involved and active with the order it is an excellent example. The girls really enjoy the attention and support. And even more importantly, for me, it reminds them that they are truly a part of a fantastic Masonic order and all that means and entails. Just a suggestion and thanks for your time and effort in making your blog.

    • GeneGoldman said,

      Thank you for being here. I don’t have anything specific to offer about the Masonic youth groups, except that my children both enjoyed their time as members very much. However, as a long-time Scouter, I concur with your thought that what youth organizations offer, and the results of their work, is just amazing to behold.

  6. Carwin Drake said,

    I have always stated that the great truths freemasonry teaches are not secret but the manner in which freemasonry teaches those truths are. They are for those that have petitioned, been found worthy and well qualified.

  7. Brad Bick said,

    The symbolic penalties are echoed in the penalties of the ruffians. To break ones obligation makes one a said ruffian.

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